Currently ninth overall, Bernal is Ineos Grenadiers' best placed rider, just 57 seconds adrift of race leader Rein Taaramae (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), and he is leading the Best Young Rider classification as well.
Meanwhile Carapaz, who struggled on the Picón Blanco summit finish and lost a minute as well as getting a 20-second time penalty, is 26th at 2:15.
However, when asked by a Spanish television reporter if Carapaz’s time loss effectively gave him sole leader status, Bernal flatly denied the idea.
“No, not at all. Richard has not lost so much time,” he argued. “It’s the end of the season, this is the Vuelta and anything can happen. It’s also very hot and that makes people tired, plus this isn’t an easy route. The more of us that are high up there [on GC], the better.”
The TV reporter’s question did not cover the fact that Ineos Grenadiers teammate Adam Yates also has designs on GC.
Yates is currently 16th overall at 1:21, and finished five seconds ahead of Carapaz and seven seconds ahead of Bernal in the opening time trial. The rest of his time loss came because of a crash in the closing kilometres of stage 2, which delayed the Briton but he did not fall. He was also the only overall contender to attempt multiple attacks in the lead group on Picón Blanco. They did not succeed, but represent a surefire sign of his strength and confidence nonetheless.
Bernal took the opportunity to congratulate stage 4 winner Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) for his comeback victory, saying he was “very pleased for him. He’s an example of how you should never surrender.
“I was sprinting myself to make sure I didn’t get caught in any splits and I heard on the radio he’d won. I’m very happy and I’m sure everybody in the bunch is too. We all have a great deal of respect for him.”
Bernal’s own fourth stage of the Vuelta saw him cross the line in 22nd place. “It was very fast in the final kilometres and there was a crosswind, but it wasn’t that strong, it couldn’t have broken up the group. However it did increase the tension in the last part.”
Wednesday’s stage 5 to Albacete on the plains of Castille could well see some more opportunities for echelons to form. But Bernal denied his team formulated a specific plan to try to break apart the race in crosswinds.
“You don’t say, let’s try here or there. It’s more a feeling you get. But every team will be warned if they have to stay alert.”
Regarding the team’s leadership questions, Ineos Grenadiers have told Cyclingnews earlier this week that ‘the road will decide’. And assuming nobody is caught on the wrong side of an echelon split or loses too much time on Thursday’s short, punchy uphill finish, the mountain stage in Alicante on Friday and Sunday’s long grind through the Sierras of Andalucia to Velefique will likely help provide a more definitive verdict on that question.
As for his own condition, Bernal said, “My morale is high, and I think my legs are good. After the Giro I had COVID, so I don’t know if I’m at 100 per cent. I’m trying to enjoy the race, I don’t know if I can win it, but I will do my best on every stage. And then what happens, happens. I’d be happy just having good feelings, actually.”
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